BBC News reports that Dr Dennis Bray from the University of Cambridge was given the European Science Award for his innovative computer simulations of the bacterium [E.coli]. The simulations are of the chemotaxis systems that "allow bacteria to respond to environmental changes". It "enables bacteria to smell and swim towards sources of food"
There's a few comments in the article about the utility of computational models
"Today, computational sciences are of primary importance in all areas of science," said Professor Edouard Brezin, president of the Academie des Sciences.It's interesting to not, from the point of view of my PhD, the bit above saying that bacterial chemotaxis is "is one of the few systems where all of the individual components that influence cell behaviour are known." It may be a useful source of concrete data for some of the things I'm considering.
"Together with experiment, computer models are now able to provide information which would not be accessible otherwise."
"It's got to the point where you can't progress without it," Dr Bray said. "We're just drowning in data."
"Any little corner of a living cell is just full of complicated machinery and molecules," said Dr Bray.
"There's just no way that one person thinking about it, can work it all out"
Bacterial chemotaxis provides an ideal platform to test computer models because it is one of the few systems where all of the individual components that influence cell behaviour are known.
Hence, discrepancies between what the scientists see in biological experiments and what they see in the simulations allows them to test the models. If there is a mismatch it suggests the model is incorrect and needs to be refined.
These anomalies can also lead to discoveries about the biological system itself.
When the computer simulations reach a point where they mimic an organism accurately, Dr Bray believes they could be used as experimental objects in their own right, rather than using a biological organism.